Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Few D--D Fools Came Through

Recently, some of the blog staff were taking a tour of Elm Springs in Columbia, home of -- among others -- A.M. Looney, the original Captain of Co. H (Aytch), 1st Tennessee. Now, it is the SCV's headquarters and open for social events and touring. Well, we weren't expecting much out of the tour and were not disappointed, but in talking about the Maury Grays, our tour guide mentioned that "over 200 of them left and only a handful returned." And I called B.S. I had done some work with them in the CSRs and knew perfectly well that that was untrue. Untrue still -- or at least half true -- is how Sam Watkins wrote about the end of the regiment.
The day that we surrendered our regiment it was a pitiful sight to behold. If I remember correctly, there were just sixty-five men in all, including officers, that were paroled on that day. ... It was indeed a sad sight to look at, the old First Tennessee Regiment. A mere squad of noble and brave men, gathered around the tattered flag that they had followed in every battle through that long war.
Of course, Sam himself didn't see the end of the regiment, he stayed in Middle Tennessee after the disastrous winter campaign and took the oath in Memphis. But even the way the above is phrased is disingenuous. It implies that the rest of the unit were all killed or disabled, which , we find, is actually far from the truth. Running through the CSRs we find the real "what happened" to the men of Co. H. Of the 111 1861 Maury Grays we can see that by far the greatest source of attrition is being detached to other assignments and transferring to other units (and usually getting promoted in the process). This is followed in number by men being discharged usually for disability. Interesting among the discharges are those done in accordance with the Conscript Act of 1862, the famous "20 Negro Law" that exempted the family members of large slaveowners from military service, ostensibly to serve as pattyrollers guarding against the feared servile insurrection.
Note that those things that SRW rails against: men getting put in "bombproof" positions and going home on the "20 Negro" bill are prevalent among his 1861 comrades.
Then nearly half of the army was detailed for "corps" of some kind: "signal corps, engineer corps, ordinance corps, infirmary corps, sapper and miner corps, etc., etc., and when the private soldier saw all these corps put on detail and left him to do the fighting, he felt that our cause was lost. It made him sick of war, boys that had volunteered with him all get some kind of positions and left him to bear the brunt of battle. The first year there were eight in my mess. At were promoted...
No wonder that Sam felt "the common soldier" was left to fight the war alone, because he himself saw a disproportionate number of his fellows leave the firing line during the war. Compared to the men who leave the line through transfers, relatively few of the men of Aytch actually get killed, wounded and disabled, or die of disease. For all the fights they were in, the losses of the company were slight. In the revised edition of Aytch, we see that Sam was starting to recognize this. I think these sentiments come out as a result of some alienation from his old comrades and a big falling out in the late 1880s, but they speak more to the truth.
Now, what became of the original 3,200? I can tell you. They were all promoted to Captains, Colonels, Generals, Commissaries, and staff officers, scouts, spies, special details, and a few d--d fools came through.

We look at the men who join the unit later and find a changed picture indeed from the original MGs. Few of them can use elite family connections to get transferred away from the main line. We can see, though, that they don't stick with the fight to the end. A huge chunk of the conscripts desert the army, most of them in the Spring of 1863 after being conscripted in Febuary of that year. Though the later men were only 1/3 of the company's total strength, they make up nearly 3/4 of the company's desertions. One of the Maury Gray deserters, it must be remembered, is our own Sam Watkins. Look also at how many more of the later additions per captia were captured in battle, leading to questions about how willing they were to go over to the enemy.

There are some fascinating trends here that I want to explore further. Use the comments section to point out any you see.


Daryl Black said...

Wonder how many of these boys' daddys voted for Bell?

McClelland Family said...

I've met Looney's great-granddaughter and can get you her contact info if you would like! She has all of his personal letters he wrote during the War.